How to House Train Your New Puppy

Tips, Tricks, and Tools for House Training

Rottweiler puppy inside its crate with a blue toy. / Getty Images

Few people have the option of taking puppy leave to stay home to house train their new puppies. That means your puppy will almost certainly be spending hours at home alone. Not only will you need to train your puppy to eliminate outside, but you'll also need to train it to hold off on elimination until you're home and ready to go outside. This can take time and patience; puppies typically have no more ability to hold it than a very young child. If your puppy will be confined for longer than four hours at a time, consider asking a neighbor or friend to let it out or giving it access to an indoor potty area during confinement.

Is Your Puppy Ready for Elimination Training?

The younger your puppy is, the more often it will need to eliminate. Maturity plays a part in house training puppies. A general rule is that your puppy can hold its urine one hour for each month of age plus one additional hour. So if your puppy is 2 months old, then it could possible hold urine for up to three hours. However, young puppies may need to go out much more frequently. In addition to using the age calculation, you can also judge your puppy’s maturity by noticing how many motion-driven accidents your puppy has, as compared to intention-driven.

Motion-driven accidents happen as your puppy is romping through the house, squats, then keeps running. As a puppy grows, motion driven elimination tends to decrease, but while your puppy is young it will occur. Keep in mind that since you didn’t know your puppy was going to go and it didn’t know it was going to go, there is no reason to try to redirect motion driven accidents. Instead, concentrate your redirection efforts on intention-driven accidents. A dog can’t help motion driven accidents, as motion stimulates the bowels. But together, you can avoid intention-driven accidents.

Are YOU ready for Elimination Training?

To help your puppy be as successful as possible, you will need to be prepared in advance with knowledge, a plan, a schedule and some realistic expectations. Everyone in the household will need to understand and be on board with the plan. A puppy will get confused and frustrated and anxious if it is not able to predict and understand its human family members.

To make house training as easy as possible, you will need to do a few things.

Define Your Puppy’s Space and Schedule

Your puppy will find it easier to eliminate in the right time and place if it stays in a limited area for a defined amount of time. If you are not actively playing with or watching your puppy it should be crated or attached to you by a leash or other tether so that you are able to notice where it is at all times. This not only avoids accidents and improves success of house training, it prevents unwanted ingestion of dangerous items, and other destructive and potentially dangerous behavior. At least for some time, it's best to keep your puppy in the largest space it will keep clean and not chew up. Dogs are considered den animals and tend to want to keep their spaces clean. Your puppy should not have free reign of the entire house until it is able to successfully control its bladder in smaller areas for at least a week or more. The goal is to gradually increase your puppy's access to the house as it becomes more successful in not eliminating in the smaller areas you have given it access to. Before deciding on your method of confinement, consider these things:

  1. Length of time your puppy will be confined
  2. The layout of your home
  3. The size of your puppy
  4. The age of your puppy

In addition to crates, your options include baby gates and exercise pens. Baby gates are a great way to keep your puppy in a selected room without isolating it from the family. Indoor exercise pens are the perfect way to give your puppy more room when you have to leave it for longer than four hours. When using an exercise pen or baby gate, it's a good idea to place your puppy's crate in one corner of the pen with the door open, its water in another corner, and the area that you are training it to eliminate in away from these other areas. This will help it make the choice of using the elimination area instead of its crate or water bowl.

Your puppy will learn much more quickly, and you will be able to preempt accidents much more successfully if you keep a good routine of waking, feeding, playing, and exercising. This allows your puppy's body to acclimate to the house more quickly and it allows you to observe and anticipate your puppy's needs more accurately. Routine also helps decrease anxiety and improves training as your dog ages.

Figure Out What You Want Them to Eliminate On

Ideally, your dog would be trained to eliminate on grass. This sets it up for long term success and prevents accidents and confusion as your puppy grows. The common use of puppy pads tends to confuse puppies and can sometimes allow them to develop a "substrate preference" for urinating and defecating on softer textures. This means your throw rugs, laundry or anything soft on the floor could potentially be seen as okay to urinate and or defecate on.

OK, we have defined our space and schedule, and planned for what we are training them to urinate on. Now, how do we maximize success of them urinating in that spot, so we can praise and reward and start developing positive reinforcement with our desired plan, while avoiding the accidents that will inevitably happen as much as possible?

Learn the Subtle Signs that Your Puppy needs to go potty

  1. First, we need to know how our puppy communicates that elimination is imminent.
    Here are some signs that your puppy needs to go outside or be encouraged to use your indoor grass area.
  2. Anytime they wake up from a nap.
    Any abrupt change in behavior. For example, if you are playing with your puppy and it suddenly stops and starts sniffing the ground, get it to the grass.
  3. Wandering away from the action. This is why it is nice to have your pup tethered to you if it is not in its crate. You can notice if it starts to try to wander away from where you are sitting. This is a good indication it may need to go to the bathroom.
  4. Vocalization or whining. This can occur in or out of a crate and can be a good indicator that your puppy needs to go.
  5. Twenty to thirty minutes (or sooner) after eating. Eating typically stimulates the movement of the GI tract. Depending on your puppy's size and age, your puppy will most likely need to defecate shortly after eating.

In general, it is good to take your pup out every 30 minutes to an hour if they are not crated. Take them out as soon as you or guests arrive home to avoid accidents when they are excited. Remember, the hour-per-month plus one rule noted above. Your puppy should not be expected to hold urine for any longer than that, and some small breeds will have even smaller windows.

The goal here is to prevent the accidents from even occurring. This helps improve the positive bond between you and your new pup and avoids the accidents from attracting future accidents.

Pick your Potty Phrase

To help your puppy learn to eliminate on command, you will want to pick a word or phrase ahead of time to use consistently when taking your pet to pee or poop. It is important that everyone in the household use the same word to help decrease confusion and improve efficacy of training. Phrases such as "go potty," "use the grass," and others are commonly used. Whatever you pick, say it in an upbeat way and be consistent.

Be Prepared to Praise

Because you have done such a great planning, you will need to be prepared to praise your pup when it gets it right. Carry small treats and keep them as out of sight as possible so as to not distract your puppy. When your puppy pees or poops, tell it "great job" and immediately give them a treat. Make successful urination and defecation a big deal. The sooner you can associate a positive reward with the desired behavior, the quicker the pup will learn!


Watch Now: How to Crate Train Your Dog or Puppy

When Training Is Difficult

If you find that your pup is having accidents in the house more than you would like, go back to square one. Get back on a strong schedule, make the space that your puppy has access to smaller. Make sure you have thoroughly cleaned all previously soiled areas. It is common for people to think the pup "gets it" and allow them too much access too soon. Just remember to go slow and if you think your pup is backsliding, don't get frustrated, just go back to basics.

If your pup is routinely soiling in the crate, switch to a larger space as soon as possible. Dogs can sometimes lose the desire to keep the sleeping place clean and this can make them more difficult to potty train going forward. You can restore a puppy’s cleanliness instincts by giving it the choice of a clean crate with the door open, water bowl, and food bowl in one area and your preferred substrate (aka grass or any other surface that does not resemble a common household surface) in another area.

If house-training is not going well at all, reach out to your veterinarian and have your pup checked for urinary tract infections or other issues that maybe preventing it from being successful. Go over your routine with your vet and see if they can recommend any changes or a trainer that may be able to guide your further.

Successful house training is one of the most important skills that you can teach your dog. It prevents breaks in the human-animal bond and will allow your pup to develop a relationship with you and your family built on success and positive reinforcement. This will go a long way to a happy life together.